Indigenizing the Academy

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This week, Ken Steele talks with Steve Robinson, interim President & Vice-Chancellor at Brandon University in Manitoba, about one of the most urgent changes facing higher ed in the next decade: indigenization.

Every university in Canada, particularly those in Western Canada, is faced with the challenge of accommodating Indigenous peoples and cultures on their campuses, and since institutions and local Indigenous communities vary widely, the solutions and innovations will be unique at each institution.

Campus leaders need to ensure they create an environment in which Indigenous people feel welcome, through visual symbols, dedicated spaces, practices and ceremonies that reflect and respect Indigenous cultures. But universities also need to reinvent traditional western decision-making processes and governance mechanisms in order to embrace Indigenous perspectives. Institutions need to bring more Indigenous peoples, elders and knowledge-keepers, to campus in order to participate in institutional governance, programs and student supports.

At Brandon University, there is a long history of Indigenous participation and service to Indigenous communities. Brandon is re-establishing its elders program. It holds a large, all-nations Pow-Wow at convocation every year. It has a beautiful Indigenous Peoples Centre, and is participating in the Brandon Friendship Centre’s campaign to erect symbolic teepees across the city, and on the campus. But Steve emphasizes that Brandon knows it is still fundamentally a western institution, and although it has made some progress, “we still have a long way to go.”

European colonial traditions permeate the culture and structure of the academy. So although universities have a critical role to play in Indigenous reconciliation, they are beginning to realize just how challenging it will be. What’s required, Steve explains, is not just more Indigenous student enrolment, or more Indigenous representation among faculty and staff; universities must find new ways to operate that incorporate, respect, and energize Indigenous culture and perspectives. Universities must “open up their administration, faculty and governance structures to the significant participation of its Indigenous communities,” and reach out to understand and meet the needs of Indigenous peoples.

Steve Robinson became interim President and Vice-Chancellor at Brandon University in August 2017, after serving two years as VP Academic and Provost, and several terms as Associate Dean of Arts, Acting Dean of Arts, and chair of the Philosophy department. Steve previously taught at the University of Guelph and University of Regina.

Shot on location at Brandon University in April 2018, by campus videography staff – thank you again!

#ICYMI, check out last year’s interview on “Serving Indigenous Students Better” with Nipissing University president Mike DeGagné: https://youtu.be/5mpQ4Cs59o8

In the months ahead, 10K will continue this discussion in interviews with Assiniboine Community College president Mark Frison, and University of Regina president Vianne Timmons. To be sure you don’t miss them, subscribe today! http://eduvation.ca/subscribe/

And if you would like to host a 10K Site Visit at your campus, see http://eduvation.ca/twk/site-visits/for further information!

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